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August

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Green Woodpecker
When I think back to August my impression is of a wet month but the figures tell a different story. We had 51mm of rain during the month compared to an expected average of 67mm. We have had some torrential rain though - on 5th we had 10mm alone and on 29th it was so heavy we nearly had to stop driving. Temperatures were also higher than normal with a mean daily maximum of 23.30C and a mean night time minimum of 13.20C compared to the expected 20.5 and 11.2. This has meant that insects are now to be seen more frequently, especially dragonflies. One day at Chambers Farm Wood the air was thick with migrant hawkers; unfortunately they were not landing so photographs were impossible. Butterflies are still scarce but there have been more on the wing during August. Plants have done well during our wet summer and orchids, in particular, have thrived. On the bird front, some of our summer visitors are preparing to leave our shores and many cliff nesting seabirds such as puffins and auks have already returned to their pelagic life. We are beginning to see waders such as sandpipers, greenshank and spotted redshank moving through. Exciting times in the bird world.
August began for us with one of our regular trips to Edinburgh to visit our son, Thomas. As we were going for an extended visited we opted to take our caravan to a favourite site at Musselburgh just outside the city. We like this spot as it is a quick hop to Thomas's flat and the coast of the Firth of Forth east of Edinburgh is very attractive with ample opportunities for wildlife watching and photography. August is also Festival time. One of our trips north of Edinburgh on 8th of August took us up to Dunkeld just beyond Perth. We had gone for some landscape photography at The Hermitage an ornamental woodland planted by the Dukes of Athol in the late 1700s - early 1800s. Specimen trees include some Douglas Firs which, allegedly were the first trees in the UK to reach 200 feet in height. Of interest to me, however, was the River Braan itself and the waterfall above the attractive packhorse bridge. Whilst here, we sat by the falls and enjoyed the amazing spectacle of watching salmon attempting to leap them in order to reach their spawning grounds upstream. It is incredible to think that these huge fish were themselves spawned in this very river and then left after six months to a year as tiny smolt for the sea. They have lived most of their lives in the Atlantic, returning to their birth place to mate themselves, only to die, spent on the banks of the river afterwards. On the way home we stopped off at South Queensferry for fish and chips on the harbour wall and some photography of the road and rail bridges in the evening light.
On 10th August we drove the short distance to Aberlady Nature Reserve. Heather went down onto the shore for some beach combing whilst I pottered about looking for butterflies to photograph. This was the first time this summer that I had seen butterflies, particularly common blues, on the wing in decent numbers. On another day I stopped off to photograph the amazing display of old-fashioned cornfield flowers that had been sown on the roadside on the outskirts of Prestonpans - an absolutely amazing sight, but one that must have been common in fields a hundred years ago before the advent of weed killers and our now agricultural monoculture. A visit to the mouth of the small River Esk rewarded me with views of eider ducks and red breasted mergansers which were just beginning to moult out of their eclipse plumage.
On our journey home from Edinburgh on 14th August Heather and I were amazed to see what looked like a length of old fashioned reel to reel recording tape blowing across the road. Quickly we realized that it was in fact alive: a family of five weasels scuttling across the road. This would have been unusual in itself but it was made even more so by the fact that we were on the busy A1 dual carriageway!!
On 19th August Heather and I went for a walk on a beautifully warm sunny afternoon in Irby Dale, a favourite spot. We were delighted to have wonderfully close views of two buzzards. The first we disturbed as it was resting in a tree and we were made aware of the second when we heard its evocative mewing call as it drifted down into the wood up the side of the valley. I wondered if it was carrying food to youngsters. These fabulous birds are becoming more and more common and I watched one the other day as it floated on warm thermals above Grimsby College.
On 20th August I visited Chambers Farm Wood looking for brown hairstreak butterflies. We were unsuccessful in this but we were thrilled to find a purple hairstreak, a first for me. It was good to see plenty of butterflies on the wing at last, the brown argus being particularly numerous. We were also fortunate enough to obtain several views of grass snake, a species I have been trying to get to grips with all summer. Unfortunately they were very wary and I didn't manage to capture them on film - well digital memory card anyway!!
At the end of the month a trip to Old Moor RSPB reserve in the Dearne Valley rewarded me with thirty four bird species; a good day despite the heavy rain. It was, in fact, rewarding photographically, the highlight being photographs of green woodpecker, a bird I had been trying to photograph for some time. We found this very soggy individual foraging for grubs on a bank just outside one of the hides.